Ethiopia glossary















Section 1
From what your father told you and what you yourself have seen after you grew up, what was this place like in the past?
It was quite different from what it used to be during the time of our fathers. They used to cultivate on a small plot of land and harvest a lot of crop. The land was not eroded by flood and the trees were not cut down so much then. Everything was good then. Now there are no trees and the land has been eaten up by the flood.

Why were the trees removed?
In the days of our fathers the population was small. This place, a little further away from Abba Hajibís home, had no settlement then. This is just what I heard from the older men, but I havenít seen it. Over there on the hill beyond, there used to live only one man. And they used to tell him that if he fell ill or something happened to him he couldnít get any help. So they used to urge him to move down nearer to us and settle there. But eventually, many children were born and the population grew. And land became scarcer because it had to be divided among family members. People were moving around following their mothers or fathers and began settling in new areas. The land became smaller in size and what remained itself was being eaten up by the flood.

So why did the trees disappear?
In the old days the children used to live with their parents until they grew up. So they did not build themselves a separate house. Now one person alone builds up to four houses and as a result the trees were cut down for construction purposes.

So it was man who destroyed the trees?
Yes, it was we ourselves who destroyed them.

Were the gullies that we see now not formed then?
They say that these did not exist then. You see the place over there where we cross the little stream when we come from Tcherqos? I remember the time when it was just a meadow. Now it has been claimed by the water. The day before yesterday, you remember the man showing on television [he probably meant the video cameraman] how the land was claimed from him by the water? You see, that land initially belonged to another person. We know that the first farmer used to leave a strip of grass around his farm to control the floodwater. Then he gave his land to another farmer for cultivation on a sharecrop basis. The other farmer removed the grass and ploughed it and the water ate up the land. I remember it very well. It was land enough for a pair of oxen (enough for tilling using two oxen in a day) that the water claimed away. The water just cut through the middle of the farm and ate it up. Not just the soil, even the sand was washed away. In other places, where there used to be a river, it is now a flat land. I could show you tomorrow morning when we cross it.
Section 2
What about water?
The water was the same.

There was no water in the past?
Yes, there wasnít.

How did your fathers settle without water?
That depended on the place.

What about your sources of income in comparison with the past? Do you have a better income, I mean in terms of your livestock and crops?
No, there is a difference. Now we are at a disadvantage, for we have none. You cannot raise goats or cattle. You donít milk cows. They had a lot of wealth in the old days. Even when the old ones talk now, they say so and so had so much livestock and so much crops. There are no rich persons now, everyone is equal. Our fathers had a lot of land in the old days and their children inherited that. Now they say it is equality and when I grow up and form a family I hold two plots of land and the others do the same, according to the size of their household.

When did you have your own livestock?
I have none yet, I have only one ox.

What was the grazing land like during the days of your fathers?
During the days of our fathers? Let alone during the days of our fathers, even when we were shepherds, we used to feed our livestock well on just a small plot of fallow land.

Does it mean there was a lot of grass then?
Yes, there was plenty of grass. Now if I take the livestock to seven plots of fallow land, they wonít get enough fodder. The land has been scraped clean.

Are there any changes in livestock diseases?
Yes, there are. The diseases are the same, but they say they were not as severe in the past as they are now.

What do you do when an animal falls ill?
We pierce and bleed it. It was same in the past, too.

Donít you take them to the veterinary clinic?
But there is no such thing here.

What are the changes in the crops you cultivate?
You mean what I cultivate or what our fathers produced?

I mean both.
We received the seeds from the past generation. We cultivate as in the past teff (staple crop), sorghum, wheat, barley, peas, beans, and lentils. There are also different varieties of sorghum.
Section 3
What new crop are you cultivating now?

What is chekelie?
It is a white seed and we just boil and consume it.

Does it mean adenguare (cowpea or haricot bean)?
Yes, it is like that. It is small [in yield] and is not enough for other use. You canít roast or bake and consume it. It is good only for consuming by boiling it. That is the only thing new we have produced.

Is there any other type of crop which your fathers used to cultivate, but which you couldnít because the land refused to give yield?
We have a problem especially with peas, beans and lentils.

The land refused to give any yield?
Yes. Even if it grows up the yield is not as it used to be - it is very scanty because of the pests. The yield is decreasing every year and this year it has in fact disappeared. Barley is also decreasing in yield.

Did you cultivate barley, too?
Yes. Those who had seeds used to harvest a little bit up to last year. This year it was completely damaged.

What was the difference from the days of your fathers in the way you cultivated the land? Did they cultivate a lot of land?
Yes, they did. The size of land cultivated by one person then is cultivated by 30 persons now.

Did they cultivate the whole plot of land or did they leave part of it fallow?
No, one man chose a good-yield crop and cultivated it on the whole of his farmland.

Are you now clearing the forest and cultivating newly reclaimed land or that land which used to be cultivated by your fathers?
No, we are cultivating what we got from our fathers.

What about pests? What kind of pests were there in the past?
It is the same pests that exist now.

What were they called?
Fenttera (grasshopper), degeza (bush cricket), qoratch (?) - these were pests that also existed in the past, but somehow they did not destroy as much crop then.
Section 4
How did you eradicate pests in the past?
I donít know how pests were eradicated in the old days.

What about after you grew up?
We spray pesticides given by the government, but it also kills the strip of grass on the edge of the farm.

How many persons cultivate now the plot of land which used to be cultivated by one farmer following the redistribution of land? What problem did you face as a result of that?
No problem except that the land is unproductive. We hear our fathers say that in the old days, one did not get land even if he formed a family unless he inherited his fatherís. One couldnít just go and grab an unoccupied piece of land then. Now, however, if you become an adult and form your own family and apply for land, they could give you the land that used be held by the deceased or the land that others had been made to give up.

In comparison with the past, how cheap or expensive are market prices?
Where can you get the old prices? An ox used to cost from 7 to 30 birr, i.e., 7 birr for an older ox and 30 birr for a heifer.

What about food grain?
It was the same with food grain.

What did you measure it with?
In those days they measured grain with aqmada (sheepskin bag or weight equivalent of 50-60kg) and qunna (large grass basket holding about 10 kg). Now, let alone in the market you donít use these even in your threshing ground to collect your harvest. You use the jerry can (he probably meant the plastic bowls).

What other goods were available on the market in the old days and what is new now?
Nowadays, the market has more goods than in the old days. You find now umbrellas, you have big plastic bowls for kneading dough and cups for drinking water. We are now using household goods brought from the towns, especially plastic products.

What about clothes?
There are more clothes now. The old folks tell us that they used to wear homemade cotton trousers and shirts. Now there are more varieties - shirts, jackets, sneakers.

In this locality there are many development activities such as spraying pesticides, building schools, and others. Which of the activities carried out by the government is the most useful for you?
Whatever the government did to benefit us.

Your fathers did not get much support from the government. Now the government is doing a lot for you, right?
Section 5
For instance, you said that you got pesticides for spraying. A school is also being built. So which of the things done for you are most useful?
Well, I think it is only because we did not know how to make the most out of it. Otherwise everything is useful.

Which one was most useful to you?
We found the umbrellas most useful.

No, I donít mean that.
One talks of health matters.

You can say anything you like.
A clinic was established at Dibiko and it is healing many people. People are dying here because they couldnít go to Flaqit, but now a clinic was set up for us at Dibiko and venereal diseases such as gonorrhoea are disappearing now. So we have got such benefits.

Apart from health care, what other benefit have you got?
The government has us made equal holders of land.

You have seen the changes that have occurred here so far and you have heard what it was like in the old days. What changes do you expect to see around here within the next 20 years?
If we develop our area, if we plant fruits, vegetables and trees, if we stop cutting down the wild trees, if we build dams, we can get clean drinking water, irrigate our plants and lead a better life.

What are the cultural institutions in your locality?
There are none here.

No institution at all?

For instance, are there no customs through which you come together and drink coffee at the mosques, cooperate with each other when there is a funeral, etc.?
We have Tertim. For instance, when I become an adult and form my own family, I cultivate my farm for one year and the next year the elders will come and make me join the Tertim. Then I have to make coffee regularly and I end up doing this over and over as a member. Then the government will demand of me payment of land tax.

What about other institutions apart from the Tertim?
Yes, when someone dies they will make sure that I attend the funeral.

What are the benefits of these practices?
We boil the coffee for our fathers, for the dead. When there is breakfast during coffee it will be for the dead. Since old men are physically weak, we have to dig the graves, collect rocks for the graves. No one else can do that. So we have to join the Qire (traditional funeral association).
Section 6
So you join the Qire for conducting funerals?

From what you have heard your fathers say, is there any other institution apart from Tertim which used to exist during their days but which has been abandoned nowadays?
No, I havenít heard of any.

What are the differences in marriage between now and the old days?
It is the same.

How is it the same?
When you conclude the marriage contract, you get one third from the father and the mother. ďYou come together and a lemon and two forty sheiksĒ (?). That was what they said and it is the same now.

At what age did a woman marry then?
We hear the old folks say between the ages of 10-15. Now, however, you marry off your daughter when she is nine years old.

How long will she stay away when she is married at nine?
She can stay with her mother or relatives until she reaches the age of 15. It is called gedeb (limit).

Was it in the past or now that marriages last longer?
Todayís women tend to stay longer with their husbands. Actually it depends on the woman.

Are there many divorces around here?

Why do spouses divorce?
It depends on their characters and the condition of life in the household. May be the woman complains that her husband has not bought her clothes. May be it is due to ill health or one of them is unfaithful. They also divorce because they get poor harvests and they are hit by hardship.

Do the men keep concubines?

Tell me about it.
I donít know how to explain it to you.
Section 7
For instance, from what you heard, how do they keep a concubine?
A man may be married to someone and after living with her for a long time he discovers that she is barren. He wants to have children who will look after him when he becomes very old. So he asks her permission to marry another woman.

Is this practised even now?
Yes, it is the same now, too.

Regarding the relationship between parents and children, is it the present day children who try to find out about their family lineage and history or was it children in the past?
It was the children in the past. If my father now tells me that so and so was your relative, I will just ignore him.

What about children in the past?
They tried to find out about their lineage because they wanted to get their share of land in inheritance.

There are different sorts of people around here. How far do they cooperate with each other? For instance, what kind of relationship used to exist between Christians and Muslims in the past and now?
In the old days the Muslims did not go to the Christians and the latter did not go to the Muslims because of land (?). They lived apart. Now it is equality and the Muslim can have a field here and the Christian can have another one next to him. So they become like brothers. They are useful to us and we are useful to them.

You people are lowlanders. Did you have contacts with the highlanders?
In the past they had contacts because of land, but they donít now.

What about in the markets?
We share the same market, so we interact with them then.

They bring food grain to the market. Do you do the same?
They bring hops, coffee, chat (plant chewed as a stimulant) to the market. We take to the market chicken, sheep, cows and oxen, goats, and donkeys.

What about food grain, who supplies it to the market?
We the lowlanders (?).

What kind of relationship do you have with potters and blacksmiths?
They make farm implements like ploughs and sickles. If the father dies the son takes over his trade just like we do when our fathers die. We plough the land for them in July, sow and weed it in August and harvest in September and October. They, however, make the tools for us the whole year.

They say that the artisans are budas (evil-eyed) and that they used to eat people.
It is all the same. Their fathers ate the person whose blood they found to be delicious. Their children, too, do the same.
Section 8
So, you donít approach them?
Yes, we do approach them because we grew up with them. The old men, too, approached them because they grew up with them. However, when the evil-eyed ones found, let us say, the blood of one person among a thousand very delicious they eat him. It depends on his star. Among all the people that go to their village it may be one person who comes back ill and the rest may return in peace.

In the old days they made tools for you in exchange for your cultivating their land for them. What about now?
It is same now.

You donít pay them in cash?
If you have no oxen you pay in cash, otherwise you cultivate their land for them in exchange for their services.

Could you tell me about crime and conflicts? What is done when people quarrel?
I donít know about the old days. When people quarrel now, they go to the kebele (smallest unit of local administration) and settle their differences there. They have to abide by the law now.

What about in the past?
They used force then. They say so and so was brave and did not let a bandit pass through his gate. Now you donít talk about bravery or cowardice, for there is the law above you. There is also equality now. I am now from a small [poor] family and my height is also small. When an important or big person comes, I can speak to him roughly and nothing will happen to me because the government has made me equal to him.

And in the past?
In those days the small one could not insult the big one, his conscience forbids him. Our fathers say that when elderly people came around, they had to rise and give up their seats. Now, however, I myself do not rise once I sit down.

So that custom has been forgotten now?

Was it in the past that there were more crimes such as murder?

If one murdered another person in the past, where did he go to?
To the wild bushes.

Where are these?
Where you passed the day today.

Tekezie (river basin)?
Yes, Tekezie. If one went this way it is a wilderness and that way it is the same.
Section 9
What did the killer do there?
Nothing he just slept and ate.

What did he eat?
His brother would follow the banks of the river and bring him food.

What is the role of men and women?
The man ploughs the farmland, clears the bushes, weeds, harvests and threshes his crop. He weaves clothes. He also cuts grass and wood and builds a house.

What does the woman do?
She fetches water, kneads the dough, bakes bread, grinds grain. She also helps with the weeding and the harvesting. She prepares the threshing ground [by pasting on it animal dung].

Do women do now anything different from what their mothers used to do?
Nowadays women have more rest than there predecessors, but those who have no money or food grain cannot rest. If you have no grain you cannot grind it or send it to the flourmill. However, if you have money you can at least send your food grain to the flourmill.

How far is the flourmill from here?
It is in Dibiko, so you can estimate the hour for yourself since you have been there.

There are the blind and other disabled persons around here. Apart from what they can collect by begging what kind of support do they get? What did your fathers do for them during harvest time?
When you collect your harvest, you give them one third of your produce. Generally the whole community make similar contributions although there are some people who forget to do this. So when the disabled come to peopleís homes, they give them this amount depending on their means.

Is this custom still practised?

You live in Meket Woreda [district] and you are called the people of Meket. So what features distinguish you from others?
We are lowlanders.

Is that the main distinction?

When you travel to Mekele or Desse, how do others tell you are from Meket?
Our clothes and shoes.
Section 10
What do your clothes and shoes indicate?
If I spend the day ploughing the farmland and it rains, my white clothes would be smeared by the mud. If I wash it, the red soil would not be removed completely. Besides, I use the same clothes both for work and other occasions and it is bleached by the sun. Also I may have a pair of shoes, perhaps a sneaker or plastic shoes, and it is worn out from over-use.

And they say, ďhere come the MeketsĒ.

If you get a better option, will you leave this place and settle down elsewhere?
Yes because I want to change my clothes and eat good food.

What do you give the highest respect to in your culture?
When it is Mewlid (feast celebrating the birth of Mohammed), and I have a goat I give it to the mosque or else I give money. The representative of the mosque collects this from every one each year. The money is used to buy salt, red pepper, food and whatever else is necessary. On the holiday itself we slaughter the goats for a grand feast.

From what you heard in the past and from what you observe now, most churches and mosques are built on hills. Why do you think this is so?
It is to make them different from villages, to give them respect and prevent livestock from entering their compounds. When they are built on top of hills they can easily be distinguished from other houses.

Why do you think highlanders choose to live on hills and mountains?
Because it is cooler there.

What effect does this have?
The lowland has malaria and if the highlanders happen to come just once to the lowland, they catch it. We canít bear the cold there and they canít stand the heat here.

Are there people who leave this place because of the malaria and live there?
No one will leave from here.

Not just from here, but from the whole lowland?
Not in the past, but now, after the land redistribution since the last couple of years, some men have come from the highlands to cultivate on a share-crop basis the land of those who have no oxen and of the single women. The lowlanders do not go to the highland.

Many holidays are celebrated in your culture. Is there any change in their manner of celebration?
We observe Jimat (Friday) here.

No, not that. There is for instance Mewlid, Eid el Fitr. How do you celebrate these?
The same way they were celebrated in the past. During Areffa or Eid el Fitr (the break of the main fast), we all go to the same place and drink our coffee and have breakfast together. For instance, the members of kebele 028 use the same mosque for prayer. So people come here from Tcherqos, Doqa, Doba, Zewala, Gumar, Arebal, Sehod, and Tchirabal for prayer on that day and celebrate it together. After coffee and breakfast we all go to our homes and those who can afford it slaughter a goat and prepare a feast for their family. If you havenít got the means, then you donít slaughter anything.
Section 11
What do the women and men wear for the holiday?
I buy clothes for myself and my wife with the money I have earned and saved. If I had new clothes already bought and saved, then I wear that for the holiday. When the holiday is over we change to our working clothes.

Do the women use any ointment?
They use butter.

What about special marks?
They use melgom and musebaha (?).

What else do they use on their hair?
They use guftah (?).

Both in the past and now?

How did you acquire your present knowledge and skills?
I learned it from my father, I lived among the people, observed and heard what they were doing and thus got the skills.

What skills do you have now?
My profession is farming, I can make my own yoke, plough, and handle. I carry all these to the farm.

What else can you do apart from farming?
I can make weaving tools.

Who did you learn this from?
My father.

Do you know of anyone here who has acquired modern education?
No, I donít know anyone.

How much do you think have you lost because you havenít been educated?
I regret that I donít even know at least how to write my name.
Section 12
What would you have done if you had been educated?
If I were educated no one would write something good or harmful and give it to me without my knowing the contents. Now a chairman of the kebele is going to write something harmful and give it to me to dispatch it.

You yourself arenít educated, but do you want to give your children modern education?

I donít want my children to be as ignorant as I am. I will send them to school to learn the Koran.

What benefit would your children get if they receive modern education?
They could get employment with the government. They will work for the kebele. If, they are not educated, let alone the government, even the kebele would not be interested in them.

How do you learn of events in the towns and other rural areas?
It is this, our inability to read or hear new developments, which has harmed us.

You hear nothing?

For instance, you hear about the change of government or new taxes levied by the government. How do you come to hear about these?
We donít get it directly from the source. Somebody travelling from Addis Ababa to Mekele might hear it and tell us. Otherwise, we donít get the news. How can we hear when we donít even have a radio or a telephone? When the government orders us to pay tax, we just do it. We donít hear about car accidents or anything. We may hear about these things when we go to the towns, but not here.

What kind of news do you want to hear here? Which news do you think would be most useful for you?
We want to hear everything.

What for instance?
We want to know about government changes, what is going on, whether there will be another land redistribution, about pesticides, and government plan. Unless someone comes on foot and tells us, we donít hear about these things. We want to hear about the water pipes laid down in the towns because we have problems of getting clean water.

Have you ever travelled outside your locality?

You have never travelled outside Tcherqos?
Well, I have travelled to Mekele.
Section 13
Why did you go there?
To weave clothes.

How did you travel before the Chinese road was built?
On foot.

How far have you benefited from the Chinese road?
Very much.

One used to travel for eight days on foot. Now you can reach your destination in a day and a half by travelling on the Chinese-built road. So what is more useful than that?

When is it that there were more diseases, now or in the past?
There is no difference.

When do you have more diseases?
Sometimes it is the whole year. At others times there is a sudden epidemic and many people die. Now there are no epidemics as in the old days because there is now health care.

What did people do in the old days when they fell ill, say because of malaria?
They used traditional medicine such as herbs. Some persons died and others were cured. I donít know who these medicine men were.

In your culture, what kind of ailment do you call a disease?
There is the genie and malaria. If you catch the genie when you are chewing chat, you will die. If you catch malaria the doctor can cure you. I donít know of any other.

When you fall ill or catch malaria, where do you go to?
We go to Dibiko for medical treatment.

What were the venereal diseases in the past? What about now?
I donít know of the old ones, but now there is kerkir, gonorrhoea, banbulie and AIDS.

Did these diseases exist in the past?
Kerkir and gonorrhoea existed in a weaker form in the past, too. But this AIDS thing is new.

Are these diseases decreasing or spreading?
They are spreading, but government medical service is checking them a bit.

Why are the diseases spreading now?
Because the population has grown.
Section 14
How because of population growth?
One man can contaminate up to three women, and they in turn contaminate three other men and it goes on like this.

Where do you think the first man got the disease from? In the town or rural areas?
I donít know the origin. If we were in the towns we would hear from the radio. But here we know nothing except farming and blowing up dust. We donít even know what is happening in Addis Ababa today.

Regarding the size of households, when was it the largest or the smallest?
According to the old folks, there are more household members now than in the past.

Why is that?
I donít know.

You donít know how a population increases?
As I told you before, four or five persons now cultivate the plot of land that used to be farmed by just one person. Why did this happen? Because the population grew and land became scarcer. The population grew because there is less death as a result of medical care. Those who were born just grow up and they reproduce themselves. In this way the population grew. In the old days, people said, ďWhat is the use of having children, let us consume what we haveĒ. Now the people say, ďLet us have children before we die because children are useful to us and they can inherit our land if we dieĒ.

Now the size of households is growing while land is getting scarcer and food supply decreasing. So what are you thinking of doing to control the size of your household?
I am not thinking of doing anything. It depends on the luck of the child. If he is lucky he can make it, if not it is just his fate. So I prefer to have more children.

So you are saying that the children will grow up according to their luck?
Yes, if I have more children, I will send one to school and make the other one a farmer.

When did you have drought here?
We hear that there was drought in 1965/66. Then there was another one in 1984/85 because the crop was destroyed by locust. At that time the people migrated in search of food. Some left with the whole of their families and half of them died in another land. Others were lucky and returned with their families. Some lost their mothers.

How were these droughts different from other times of starvation?
There is drought even after these periods, but we were not forced to migrate to other peopleís homeland; nor have we died of starvation here. That is why we donít forget those times.
Section 15
Are there periods of starvation? When do you face hardship?
From mid-August to mid-September.

Why is there hardship during this time?
Starting from the end of September, we harvest lentils, peas, barley, wheat and we can consume these. Two months before the end of the year everything is eaten up because we donít produce a lot.

So it means that the food you produce doesnít last you for a year?

Let us take the 1984/85 famine; how did you and your family cope with it?
We migrated to other peopleís homeland.

Where was that?

What were you doing there?
I became a shepherd and was able to feed myself and earn an income for my clothes. My brother became a weaver and our mother helped him by dying the yarn. When the problem was alleviated we returned to our homeland.

When there is a problem such as drought what coping mechanisms do you adopt?
We sell our livestock and food grain to bring up the children. If we have nothing we go and ask those who have some means to employ and give us assistance. If you have none of these options, you die of starvation.

Was food aid given during the 1984/85 famine?

How was the distribution?
I wasnít here, so I donít know.

Is migration common around here?
The men migrate, but the women and the children stay at home.

Why do you migrate?
To work and earn an income so that those who have no ox can buy one, and those who have no food grain can buy food.

Where do you usually migrate to?
That varies according to the individual. Some go to Gojam, some to Desse, some to Addis Ababa and others to Mekele. There are also some who go to Alamata or Woldya. One goes to where he is familiar with.
Section 16
What do you do in these places?
Weaving clothes.

Is this migration an annual event?
Yes, we go there every year.

When do you go and return?
We leave in January and those who are in a hurry return in April and the rest return in May.

When you get an employment there, how much money can you come back with?
It depends on oneís luck. Some borrow money when they leave here and come back not only empty-handed but also with a debt incurred there. Some come back with 50 to 800 birr depending on their luck.

Could you tell me about the food consumption habit in your locality? What food do you consume?
We consume injera (thin pancake) made from teff or sorghum. Unless you eat it with stew, sorghum injera is not easily swallowed. However, teff injera is soft and not so difficult to eat alone. Any way you need stew made from [roasted and ground] lentils, horse beans, or chickpeas. In the old days these were flavoured with butter, but now even the chickpea is not easy to come by. So we use linseed regularly. Since the cows are not giving birth, there is no butter.

Did you hunt and feed on wild animals in the old days?

What did you hunt?
Fish and antelopes.

What about now?
We have wildfowl.

Do you still consume these?
It depends on your luck. You can find their eggs but it is not easy to catch the fowls. We donít know how to prepare the snares for the fowls or antelopes or fish as in the old days. We do consume the eggs of wildfowl when we find them.

Do you consume any food which is different from what your fathers used to in the old days?

What type of food were they consuming?
Teff, sorghum, wheat, barley, and such cereals.

Did they eat injera or loaves of bread?
Teff and sorghum were consumed in the form of injera, wheat as loaves of bread and barley could be used as malt and also eaten as qollo (roasted cereals). You can also use sorghum together with hops to brew tella. Now, however, let alone for brewing tella we donít even have enough grain for injera because of the fall in food production.
Section 17
Did your fathers consume honey?

Were there a lot of honeybees around here?
Our fathers used to say so.

What is the bee production like now?
There may be some trees but they are not flowering and the bees are migrating to other places because of this.